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This is an association of people sympathetic to the idea that academic inquiry should help humanity acquire more wisdom by rational means. Wisdom is taken to be the capacity to realize what is of value in life, for oneself and others. It includes knowledge, understanding and technological know-how, and much else besides. Friends of Wisdom try to encourage universities and schools actively to seek and promote wisdom by educational and intellectual means. At present, Friends of Wisdom communicate with one another in the main by email (JISCMAIL). If you wish to join, click HERE, and then click on "join or leave the list", or email: nick [at] knowledgetowisdom.org
Copyright Nicholas Maxwell All Rights Reserved
Reason, of course, is weak, when measured against its never-ending task - Einstein
Here is an outline of the argument for the urgent need to bring about a revolution in the aims and methods of academic inquiry so that it takes up its proper task of seeking and promoting wisdom rather than just acquiring knowledge.
Rational Tackling of Problems of Living
The four elementary rules of rational problem-solving in question are:-
No problem-solving enterprise which persistently violates any one of these elementary, almost banal, rules can be rational. But the academic enterprise, in giving priority to acquiring knowledge in order to help promote human welfare, persistently violates three of these four rules.
A kind of academic enterprise which sought to help promote human welfare
rationally, implementing these rules, would give intellectual priority
It would also:-
And to counteract the dangers of specialized problem-solving becoming
unrelated to our more basic problems of living, academia would also:-
The outcome of implementing these four rules would be a kind of inquiry which could be said to devote reason to the task of promoting wisdom (wisdom being the capacity to realize what is of value in life for oneself and others, and thus including knowledge, technological know-how and understanding.)
Irrationality of Academia
The 20th century record of unnecessary human suffering, of war, death
Can we, in the rest of the 21st century, avoid inflicting on ourselves the kind of horrors suffered by so many in the 20th century? Only if we learn how to resolve our conflicts and problems of living in more cooperatively rational ways than we have succeeded in doing so far. And in order to achieve that, it is essential that we have a lively and socially influential tradition of exploring, imaginatively and critically, our conflicts and problems of living and what we might do about them in increasingly cooperative ways. It is essential, in other words, that our institutions of learning give priority to actively (1) articulating problems of living, and (2) proposing and critically assessing possible increasingly cooperative solutions. In our vast, complex, rapidly changing, interconnected world, fraught with conflict and injustice, our only hope of resolving our conflicts and problems more humanely is that we have in existence socially influential thinking about how we are to do this. We cannot leave this to the politicians, to civil servants, to the journalists, to think tanks or charities, to religious leaders or self-appointed prophets. The job needs to be done by our academics. But at present, by and large, academia fails to act in this way, as a kind of people's civil service, doing openly for humanity what actual civil services are supposed to do in secret for governments. It fails to do this because, as a result of giving priority to the pursuit of knowledge, the two most basic rules of rational problem-solving, rules (1) and (2), are violated. The activity of exploring problems of living, imaginatively and critically, instead of being central to the academic enterprise, is pushed to the fringes, and marginalized. What academia most needs to do if it is to help us learn how to avoid repeating the horrors of the 20th century is hardly done at all, being at odds with the pursuit of knowledge. This failure of academia to implement rules (1) and (2), this abnegation of reason, has dire consequences indeed: man-made horrors persist, and millions suffer and die as a result.
It is of course conceivable that even if academia did implement (1)
and (2), this might not make all that much difference. One can imagine
a world in which universities devote themselves to creating vividly imagined
and severely criticized proposals for action, policies, strategies, political
programmes, ideas for institutional changes, philosophies of life, all
eminently practical and desirable, all designed, if implemented, to promote
peace, justice, the flourishing of humanity - and the rest of the world
pays not a jot of attention, and continues to blunder on its way. Having
in existence a kind of academic inquiry rationally devoted to promoting
human welfare is not, in other words, sufficient to procure a better world.
But it may be necessary. In its absence it may well not be possible for
humanity to learn how to make progress towards a genuinely civilized world.
Failure to implement rule (4) - inevitable once rules (1) and (2) are not implemented - has bad consequences as well. It will tend to lead to specialized problem-solving, the outcome of implementing (3), being developed in ways which fail to do justice to what our most urgent problems of living are. Just that would seem to be an all too striking a feature of much scientific and academic research undertaken in universities today. A great deal of work in social science and the humanities seems neither to contribute to our knowledge and understanding of the human world, nor to be a contribution to the human spirit, like great literature. Medical research, carried on in the main in wealthy countries, is mainly directed towards the health problems of the wealthy, and the need of drug companies to make profits, rather than to the health problems of those whose needs are the greatest, the majority of people alive today, living in conditions of poverty in Africa, Asia, South America and elsewhere. By far the biggest part of the global budget for scientific and technological research goes on military research, almost all of which, one is inclined to think, is against the interests of humanity, although it may be in the interests of those who undertake the research, the companies that win defence contracts, and their political masters.
Current Global Crises
All this is more or less inevitable, granted that science is dissociated from the more fundamental pursuit of wisdom. Successful science produces knowledge, which facilitates the development of technology, both of which enormously increase our power to act. It is to be expected that this power will often be used beneficially (as it has been used), to cure disease, feed people, and in general enhance the quality of human life. But it is also to be expected, in the absence of wisdom, that such an abrupt, massive increase in power will be used to cause harm, whether unintentionally, as in the case (initially at least) of environmental damage, or intentionally, as in war and terror.
Before the advent of modern science, lack of wisdom did not matter too
much; we lacked the means to do too much damage to ourselves and the planet.
But now, in possession of unprecedented powers bequeathed to us by science,
lack of wisdom,
If you feel some sympathy with the above line of thought (you don't have to agree with all the details!), do join Friends of Wisdom (see above).
For more detailed
presentations of the above argument see the following by Nicholas Maxwell: